The Hoosier cabinet was an incredibly popular and functional piece of kitchen furniture in the early part of the 20th century. Between around 1900 and 1930 it was a staple of the modern kitchen with more than 250,000 cabinets manufactured a year.
The first Hoosier cabinet (though it wasn’t named that) was created by the G. I. Sellers and Sons company is 1898 in Elwood, Indiana. Though they were the first manufacturer one of the dozens of rival companies that sprung up was named the Hoosier Manufacturing Company and they quickly became the dominate player in the market.
It’s unclear if the cabinets got their name because the Hoosier Manufacturing Company made a majority of the cabinets sold during their heyday or because most companies making the variety of cabinets were all located in Indiana, the Hoosier state.
Whatever it was, the name stuck and their history and features are a unique part of Americana.
Why Hoosier Cabinets Were Popular
Hoosier cabinets were popular in a time before built-in cabinets and countertops ruled the kitchen so it was helpful to have a dedicated food prep area and built-in storehouse for the most used items right at hand. They were usually built of solid wood with either a metal or marble worktop.
Some the innovative features of a Hoosier cabinet were built-in flour sifters and a spice rack with specially made “ant-proof” glass jars as well as around 40″ of counter space which was a rare luxury in a 1920s kitchen. Other bins for staples like salt and sugar were built in as well as providing excellent storage for pots, pans, and plates down below.
Packing this much innovation into such a small space was revolutionary for its time and the Hoosier cabinet was billed a major time-saver to overworked housewives who were targeted through Hoosier Manufacturing Company’s massive advertising efforts.
In an age before modern appliances when almost all cooking was done from scratch, the Hoosier cabinet vastly improved the lives of the women who used it. At its peak it’s estimated that over 10% of American homes had a Hoosier cabinet in their kitchen.
Fading Popularity & Rebirth
The great depression was difficult for almost all consumer goods and the Hoosier cabinet was no exception. With declining sales throughout the 1930s from their peak in the booming 1920s, the Hoosier cabinet began to be viewed as outdated as newer kitchen appliances came onto the scene.
By the 1940s the modern kitchen was gaining popularity and that included built-in cabinets and countertops which made the Hoosier cabinet irrelevant and dated as times and tastes changed. Then with the end of WWII and the consumer boom years, such a multitude of new kitchen appliances and conveniences came on the market that the major manufacturers of the cabinet were run out of business.
Hoosier Manufacturing Company and G. I. Sellers and Sons, were both closed in 1942 and 1950, respectively which largely signaled the end of the reign of the Hoosier cabinet.
In recent decades collectors have begun finding these cabinets and restoring them as a unique piece of Americana. The Hoosier cabinet represents the bridge between the old world kitchens of the 18th and 19th century and the modern technologically driven kitchens of today.
They were essentially the first plug and play kitchen technology with add-on items and upgrades to allow ultimate customization for any family’s needs. Personally, I’m glad there has a been a renewed interest in restoring them because of how unique many of them are. If you’re game, start scouring Ebay and Etsy and you’ll find them on there. Some already restored to their former glory and other ready to be restored. The question is which do you prefer!
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I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.